Four nights in Florence in November
My husband and I will be in Florence for four nights (Wed - Sun am). We plan on dinner at Cipolla Rossa, Sostanza, and Casalinga but want advice on our last night. Can't decide bewteen All' Antico Ristoro di' Cambi, Al Tranvai, or Il Santo Bevitore. Advice?
Also, what do you recommend for lunch? Hoping for panini, focaccia, and maybe a restaurant or two (Zeb?).
As you can see we have relied heavily on Elizabeth Minchilli's wonderful ap. Elizabeth, any thoughts?
Here's where you should start to factor in restaurant location vis-à-vis where you will be that day--e.g., Casalinga might be a good choice if you're going to the Capella Brancacci; Mario is great if you're at San Lorenzo (and if Mario is too crowded for you, go to DaSergio, practically next door).
"Also, what do you recommend for lunch? Hoping for panini, focaccia, and maybe a restaurant or two (Zeb?)."
For panini, our go-to place is Panini del Cernacchino. Simple but fresh and delicious. They also usually have some kind of risotto, stew and/or pasta dish as well. All homemade. You order from the counter and eat upstairs (if you can find a space) or take it to go. We ate there twice this trip (just a couple of weeks ago) and it was wonderful.
Panini del Cernacchino
Via della Condotta 38R, 50122 Florence, Italy
All of your choices are great!
As far as your last night meal goes, I'd recommend Al Tranvai, only because it is quite different from any of the other places you will have been to already.
Zeb is great for lunch, if a bit of a walk (but a nice walk). 'Ino of course for panini, or any of the tripe stands through out the city.
Another lunch option is Nerbone or Porks in the central market.
Hi Elizabeth - We're relying on your app as well :) Aren't Ai Tranvai and Casalinga pretty similar to one another? There are so many trattorie to choose from - it's hard to pick (foodie problems!). Would you say any of them are not recommended for lunchtime? I suppose we can try Mario's for lunch (obvious choice since it's only open at that time)
For 2 nights in Florence during the week, (short but sweet) I am thinking dinners at Sostanza, Fagioli or santo bevitore .. unless we should mix it up with something different (although Santo Bevitore does look different than the others).. we will have 3 days and two nights so just want to make sure we choose the right mix. Thanks!
ROME - Trip Report
Thank you so much for your recommendations. Here is my trip report for Rome. I will report on Florence in a later post.
We arrived Sunday, toured the Coliseum and Roman Forum, and had our first meal at Taverna Fori Imperiali, which is nearby. The checkered tablecloths are what you would find in any Italian restaurant in the States and the pictures of actors and directors who have dined at the restaurant scream “Carnegie Deli.” It was very comfortable and the service was efficient and gracious. My husband has the large gabaroni shrimp as an appetizer. They were fine but a tad soggy and missing that satisfying snap and crunch. I had an artichoke appetizer that was very good. The waiter recommended a lasagna special to my husband. He is a lasagna aficionado and pronounced it “excellent.” I had the Fettuccine alla Romana that was wonderful: salty, porky with the crunch of pine nuts. We washed it down with a slightly peppery red wine that helped balance out the high salt content.
Monday after a long morning that spread into the afternoon at the Vatican, we walked to Pizzarium. Even at 3pm, there was a substantial line. It was quite chilly so you should be aware that without the outside counter, there is virtually no place to sit or stand (Though everyone seems used to just packing as many people as possible at the small counters on each side). Many of the locals were taking it to go. The crowd was international with visitors from Turkey, France, United States (us) and many from the neighborhood. We ordered three slices and one arancini each. This worked well because by the time we had moved to the front to order we were starving and were given the arancini to munch on while we waited for our slices to be heated. I had an artichoke and my husband had pesto. They were crunchy outside and mushy inside and satisfying but not up to the standard set by the pizza. The pizza was incredible and different than anything we had ever had. We ordered mozzarella and tomato, prosciutto, marinara cod and pine nut, and two types of artichokes one with caramelized onion and the other with pecorino cheese. The best were the cod and the artichoke with caramelized onion but all were terrific. The crust is awesome and both my husband and I agreed that we would happily eat it even without the marvelous toppings. We washed everything down with a refreshing lemon soda. Pizzarium is not inexpensive (our meal was 46 Euros) but worth every penny. Looking back, my husband summed it up as one of his favorite meals of the trip.
Even though we were completely stuffed we stopped for gelato at Fatamorgana on the way back to the Metro. My husband had the darkest of the three chocolate offerings and I had pistachio. It was fresh and delicious and the people in the shop were lovely about describing their flavors.
Dinner on Monday was at Localino. The restaurant was distinctive, comfortable with a server who was anxious to please. He even brought out a whole fish to show us when we failed in Italian, English, and French to understand what type of fish it was he was recommending. We had wanted to order the moscardini given the recommendation by both Elizabeth Minchilli and my brother in law who had been there a month before. Unfortunately, they were out. Instead, my husband had the grilled octopus, which was a huge portion and could have easily served two people. It was flavorful but somewhat dry and chewy. I had the tuna carpaccio that recommended by the waiter. The slivers of silky bright pink tuna were sublime. It came with a soy dipping sauce but my feeling was why tamper with perfection? Our pastas were vongole for the hub and an anchovy, pesto pine nut for me. My husband felt that his was ho hum and he has had better clam sauce elsewhere (Cape Cod and Venice come to mind); mine was very tasty if you can handle the high salt level – which I could. We shared the recommended whole, fish in a tomato broth that was wonderful. Fragrant, fresh with perfectly cooked morsels of white fish. Highly recommended! Finally, ended with the apple crumble, which was wonderful. The service and ambiance was so pleasant and with careful ordering, the meal could be perfection. As it was, it was very very good. It was the priciest of our meals in Rome but still felt like a good value.
Tuesday we toured the Ghetto and Camp de’ Fiori so ended up quite late (2:30pm) at Sora Margherita for lunch. The Rome Film Festival was in town so the restaurant was filled with film people and their families from around the world. They were all chatting between tables. We had two artichoke-one braised and one fried-appetizers and lasagna for the husband and Cacio e Peppe con Ricotta for me. Everything was delicious but the fried artichokes were an inspiration. They were almost like fresh warm homemade potato chips. I wish we had doubled the order. Our somewhat taciturn waitperson endeared herself to everyone by tickling the children in the room and bringing them treats to try.
Tuesday dinner was at Trattoria Monti. The décor was elegant and attractive and the service friendly and efficient. It had a hipper-in a good way-vibe than our other choices. My husband began with a zucchini sformatini. It was light and flavorful as well as interesting. I began with the tortolloni with a runny egg inside being a sucker for anything with egg yolk. It was rich and delicious but a bit bland. A little extra pepper improved it a lot. My husband had the rigatoni and sausage and I had duck. The rigatoni was flavorful with the noodles cooked perfectly. The duck was good but had an adequate but uninspiring gravy. It was perfectly fine but did not reach the heights of the other offerings. Many other diners were getting the rabbit and it looked outstanding. We shared the apple cake in a zabaglione sauce that made both of us want to lick the plate.
We had hoped to stop at the patisserie Regoli to buy something to take back to our hotel but found it was closed on Tuesday. Very sad…
We stayed at the Albergo del Senato that overlooks the square in front of the Pantheon. The hotel was comfortable and surprisingly quiet, given its location. The staff was helpful and friendly and breakfast was quite good. It was a good value, especially for Rome. On Wednesday we left for Florence and I will report on that in my next posting.
Florence – Trip Report
First, thanks to the chowhounders and to Elizabeth Minchilli for their generous response to my request for recommendations and for Elizabeth’s great app. We arrived by train from Rome on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 and checked into our hotel, Antica Torre Tornabuoni. I had told them that it was our 30th anniversary and they upgraded us to a room overlooking the Arno and left a fruit basket and bottle of wine. The hotel has gorgeous terraces and a bar and breakfast room with splendid views. Our first stop after checking in was Ino for marvelous panini. My husband had the caprese with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. I had the prosciutto with salsa tartuffo. The bread was marvelous. Before we had finished both of us were planning our return visit. On our second visit on Saturday, the small space was bursting with people perched on every surface. If you love gorgonzola, as I do, this is the place to get it. The bread soaks in the oozing perfectly ripened version they feature. The outstanding gelato shop, Carapina is around the corner. My husband had their dark chocolate and was in heaven.
Wednesday dinner was at Sostanza. I have to say that hands down, this was our favorite meal in Florence. We were greeted warmly and given a choice of places to sit. We began with the tortellini in brodo and a tomato salad. The soup was what a Jewish grandmother promises but never delivers. The broth was rich, comforting, and salty. The ripe tomatoes were a showcase for the delicious olive oil. My husband had the bistecca alla Florentina and said that it was probably the best steak he had ever eaten (and he has eaten a lot – too much – steak in his 59 years). It was perfectly seasoned, cooked, and very juicy. He was supposed to share it with me but after tasting it, reneged and only allowed me one bite. I had the famous butter chicken. It was delicious but paled in comparison to the bistecca. It tasted like grilled chicken smothered in butter. I love butter but still wish I ordered the bistecca. Dessert was a satisfyingly mushy dulce de leche type cake that our waiter said he made with his own “little hands.” Reserve now!
We went to the marvelous Mercato di San Lorenzo on Thursday morning. A must is the incredible balsamic vinegar emporium, Conti. We came home with 30 year old balsamic vinegar (to celebrate our 30 years together) and truffle salt. I wish we had bought more! We couldn’t decide on Nerbone versus Porks for lunch so my husband took the latter and I the former. Nerbone is quite the scene. Line up near the cash register to pay for your sandwich. I order the bolito (boiled beef) with both the salsa verde and the spicy red sauce. The beef is hand sliced and put onto your soft roll and then dipped in beef juices. It is awesome. Whereas Nerbone was wild, Porks was tame. The porcetta made with roast pork was very tasty and less drippy than the sandwich from Nerbone. We stopped for gelato at Vestri in Santa Croce in the afternoon. It is hard to pick a gelato flavor with all the gorgeous chocolates there to distract you. Again, my husband adored the chocolate gelato. I had the Bronte pistachio and it was also great. We had dinner at Al Tranvai (San Frediano) that was in a charming spot across from a lovely square. Much less frenetic than the other restaurants in Florence, it was a peaceful, relaxing meal. I had the pappa al pomodoro that was delicious and my husband had the mushroom tortellini that was also very good. We didn’t have the guts to try the fried rabbit so we opted for the vegetarian artichoke sformato and a side of the fried zucchini. The zucchini was sublime the sformato was fine but nothing special – proving no guts no glory. The chestnut pudding was also delicious. This is the one place that I suggest skipping the house wine that is on the tables in straw jugs. It was a lower quality than the house wine at other restaurants. Most of the locals (we were the only tourists there) were ordering bottles.
Friday we walked down the hill from Piazzale Michaelangelo and had a late lunch at Zeb (San Niccolo). The restaurant is an elegant modern gem. We sat at the counter and learned what the chef was cooking that day. We wanted to eat light so we ordered a first course and two sides of the gorgeous sautéed and roasted vegetables. I ordered the pumpkin ravioli with fresh grated cheese. My husband had a tagliatelle al Ragu. Both were delicious and managed to be both light and rich at the same time. The vegetables, especially the broccoli rabe, were a wonderful accompaniment. We wish we could have eaten the amazing looking fresh napoleon that was the only dessert selection, but we needed to save room for dinner. I took the recommended Tuscan white wine and it was the most delicious wine I had the entire trip. The meal was very reasonably priced.
Friday dinner was at Casalinga. We had a reservation and thus bypassed the throng of people waiting on line. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming. Service was friendly and efficient but we did not feel rushed. I had an artichoke starter that was like a carpaccio with an accompanying slaw that was marvelous. My husband continued his caprese comparison tests and pronounced it excellent. For our second course I had a veal chop and my husband had a pork chop. Mine came with a gravy that you might expect from your Midwestern grandmother. Both were competent but without the savory seasoning/marinades we had in other places. We skipped dessert to stop for gelato on the way to the hotel. Our feeling was that although it was very pleasant and incredibly affordable, Casalinga did not achieve the culinary heights of our other choices. We had gelato at Gelateria Santa Trinita. This was our favorite gelateria and we returned several times (My husband decided that one could not eat too much gelato). The couches in the seating area offer a nice option for resting weary feet.
Our last night we were at Cipolla Rossa. This is a beautiful trattoria right near the Duomo. We planned to follow Elizabeth Minchilli’s recommendations and share the ricotta mousse and the spaghetti in red wine sauce and then each have our own main course. The mousse was splendid but the spaghetti caused a major problem. It was so unusual and amazing with just the perfect spicy blood-red winey sauce that neither of us was willing to share. We called over the waitress and immediately ordered another. She told us that it was not a problem and that it happens all the time! I still dream about that spaghetti. For our mains, I had the bistecca and my husband had the pork chop. My bistecca was very good but did not reach the sublime level of the one at Sostanza. My husband’s pork chop (which did not have the marinated onions because they were out of season) was excellent. The atmosphere, service, and food were memorable and a perfect way to conclude our 30th anniversary trip to Florence.
Good eating Chowhounders!